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Venezuela opposition demands recall again june 04 { June 3 2004 }

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Venezuela opposition demands recall
By Pascal Fletcher, Reuters | June 3, 2004

CARACAS -- Venezuela's opposition demanded yesterday that electoral authorities set an August recall referendum against President Hugo Chavez after the left-wing leader acknowledged his foes might have gathered enough signatures to trigger the vote.

Chavez said Tuesday opponents could have obtained 2.5 million signatures, "a whisker over" the required target. Echoing this, his vice president, Jose Vicente Rangel, said yesterday the opposition's real test was not the signatures, but the referendum.

Despite a ban on predicting results, opposition leaders have already announced that they obtained more than 100,000 signatures over the legal target of 2.4 million, or 20 percent of the electorate in the world's No. 5 oil exporter.

Venezuela's National Electoral Council is due to announce later this week the final outcome of a weekend review of disputed proreferendum signatures.

Opposition leaders demanded that electoral officials declare the signatures tally and immediately call a referendum.

"The National Electoral Council is obliged to publicly recognize the results, which everyone already knows and which require the immediate calling of a presidential referendum for Aug. 8," opposition spokesman Alejandro Armas said.

Chavez called on the electoral council Tuesday to probe "strong evidence" that several thousand opposition voters may have used false identities -- including those of dead persons -- in the weekend signature checks.

His allegations raised fears that a fraud inquiry could delay the referendum decision.

Opponents of the populist president elected in 1998 have repeatedly accused him of trying to block the recall vote.

International observers said it would have been difficult to commit major fraud in the May 28-30 signature review. They noted that the same set of results were already in the hands of the opposition, government, electoral authorities, and foreign monitors.

Chavez and Rangel predicted a win for the president in any referendum, but many past polls have indicated he would lose.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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